Before we look forward to the future, I believe we must go back in time to the 2018 NBA Draft. The Phoenix Suns have the first pick, the hired Luka Doncic’s coach Igor Kokoskov, just to pass on Luka and take Deandre Ayton.
Fast forward to the summer of 2021. The Suns are coming off of a loss in the NBA finals to the Bucks, but there is optimism abound. The rebuild has worked. Ayton isn’t Luka, but he excelled in his role and Chris Paul helped elevate his game in the postseason. The core is secured, only, the Suns don’t offer Ayton a rookie extension.
That brings us to the 2022 NBA playoffs where Luka and the Mavericks absolutely embarrassed the 64-win Suns in a game seven in Phoenix. Luka dropped 35 points, while Ayton played only 17 minutes and was a -23. Now Ayton wants out and with Chris Paul turning 37, the championship window might have slammed shut.
The Suns are a notoriously cheap franchise, but even Robert Sarver would be unlikely to simply let Ayton walk without some value in return. That’s why it will likely take a sign-and-trade to acquire the restricted free agent this offseason.
Hollinger says it’s more likely than not. Well how likely? Let’s set some odds.
Deandre Ayton Next Team Odds
- Detroit Pistons: +150
- Indiana Pacers: +200
- San Antonio Spurs: +550
- Portland Trail Blazers: +1000
They have been rumored to have interest in Ayton and there is a simple swap that would make a ton of sense for both sides. Jerami Grant for Deandre Ayton. There would need to be other salary filler, but Grant would allow the Suns to make one more run at it before his contract expires and gives them an option to finally play small in the playoffs, or size up with Grant on the wing and a true center in the game.
Cade Cunningham needs help and a lot of it. He needs NBA players around him and Ayton is a legitimately good NBA center who can run a pick and roll with Cunningham and be a vertical threat at the rim. Ayton has shown he can hold up well enough in the playoffs, outside of the Dallas series this year. There is no team like Dallas in the East, it is the bigger conference and he won’t get played off the floor in the playoffs.
I mention the playoffs because if the Pistons draft well at No. 5 (Jaden Ivey might fall into their lap), trade for Ayton, and make one addition in free agency, this is a team that could make a leap similar to the Cavs this season and maybe find themselves in a play-in game.
Allegedly, the Pacers made a run at Ayton during the trade deadline. They could not get a deal done then, but maybe they can now. Indiana does not seem tied to 26-year-old Myles Turner long-term and would likely rather make a commitment to Ayton who is three years younger and has had playoff success. Much like Detroit, the Pacers are looking for a center to pair with their young guard. Indiana had a log-jam at center with Domantis Sabonis and Myles Turner, but after flipping Sabonis for Tyrese Haliburton. They could move both players for the centerpieces of a new core, in a Turner for Ayton swap.
If Phoenix has an offer from Indiana for Turner and Detroit for Grant it comes down to what they want to be, Grant gives them a smaller option and more versatility, but Turner could be a plug and play replacement for Ayton.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are another team that has been in play for Ayton. They want a piece to put with Dejounte Murray, their young guard who was an all-star this season. Notice a trend yet? Really the difference here is San Antonio does not have the same type of package to send back to Phoenix. Jakob Poetlt is good and on a reasonable contract with 1-year 9.4 million left, but I’m not sure what else they would be willing to send as a sweetener. Keldon Johnson could be intriguing, but he is set to become a restricted free-agent in a year and would leave Phoenix in the same situation as they are in now. If the spurs include him, this might be the best deal to be had.
If Johnson is on the table then this is a matter of if the Suns don’t want to pay Ayton or don’t want to pay period. I’d say it’s the latter, so I don’t expect Ayton to become a Spur.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland wants to add something to try to help Damian Lillard win this year. It sounds like they have interest in doing a deal with the Suns, but I’m not sure how that would shape up. Honestly I think their best bet is to try to pry Jerami Grant away from Detroit to put with Jusuf Nurkic in the front court. I don’t see Ayton being enough of an upgrade that they are willing to part with something significant and pay him the max.